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In the last couple years, I have been writing considerably less on the blog. I have, however, still been brewing copious amounts of coffee. I’ve done some traveling and explored new coffee products during my intermission. These experiences have made me more keenly aware of a coffee brewing truth that impacts everyone who crowdsources their coffee information: Everyone’s brewing set-up has different variables and thus you should approach coffee recipes with a bit of skepticism.
What is a Coffee Recipe?
Some of you are scratching your heads right now trying to figure out why you would need a recipe for brewing coffee beyond ground coffee beans plus water equals happiness.
For the purpose of this post, a coffee recipe is going to be defined as detailed instructions on making a cup of coffee with a particular brewing method. This may be more specific and include a particular coffee from a particular roaster or more general and just talk about the brewing method itself.
Coffee recipes generally include a grind size (fine, medium, coarse), coffee dosage, brewing time and other techniques such as stirring or number of pouring pulses.
Why Coffee Recipes Don’t Always Translate Well
Two products come to mind that show just how large the gap between nearly identical brewing set-ups can be. A few small differences may seem insignificant but they really can drastically change the results of a meticulously followed coffee recipe.
Those products are Third Wave Water and the Kruve Sifter. While this post isn’t about the products in detail and reviews of them, here is what I learned from simply tinkering with them for a few years.
Water Makes a Bigger Difference Than I Ever Imagined
When I first wrote my post on The Best Water for Coffee, Third Wave Water had just rolled out. Since then, it has become pretty popular in the manual coffee brewing community. Third Wave Water is a mineral additive that you add into distilled water to make a gallon of coffee water. This water has an optimized TDS (total dissolved solids) and mineral content for filter (or espresso) brewing.
I ordered ten gallons worth of Third Wave Water capsules in January 2017, bought 240 gallons worth from their Kickstarter campaign and have been brewing and experimenting with it ever since.
My experiments with Third Wave Water started a little rocky. The brewing times shortened and the coffee tasted under extracted. In the end, I changed some of my coffee recipes and adjusted my grind size. With some of my brewing methods, the changes ended up being fairly drastic.
Who would have thought that the total dissolved solids in your brewing water would drastically impact the total brewing time?
Once I figured out my coffee recipe, I noticed a stark difference from coffee brewed with my home water and coffee brewed with Third Wave Water. The doctored water brought out sharper (more vibrant) flavors in the coffee I brewed.
Takeaway One: If you are following a coffee recipe and using a different water, your brewing times and grind size should probably be different.
Burr Grinders Vary More Than You Would Think
The year Third Wave Water debuted also brought me the long anticipated Kruve sifter. This gadget was invented as a way to sieve out the boulders and fines from your coffee and get a much more uniform grind size.
As I took the time to experiment and play around with the Kruve sifter, I was blown away with the variation in particle sizes. When I began to calibrate my grinder (Baratza Virtuoso) setting to the sifter, I realize how different my settings could be from someone with the same grinder.
Even the exact same model grinder will be calibrated a little differently. (A four setting could work great for me but may be too fine for you.) Part of this is personal preference but there are also small calibration differences. This is why I don’t post my grinder settings to my coffee recipes.
I don’t use the Kruve on a daily or even monthly bases. It is a novelty item to me. I have four kids, a puppy and full time job. I don’t have the time to meticulously sift my ground coffee every morning. It can be a little too much. I am happy with the quality of my ground coffee and the results I’ve produced by dialing in my coffee recipes.
The Fellow Ode Brew Grinder, which I received last month, may be a game changer as far as consistency across grinders. The Ode has an interlocking burr system which could standardize grind size between user as the calibration should be more standard with interlocking burrs.
Takeaway Two: Even if you are using the exact same model of coffee grinder, small calibration differences can change your coffee recipe.
Your Recipe Can Change When You Change Your Coffee
Your coffee brewing recipe will probably change a bit whenever you change the coffee you are drinking. The roasted coffee bean itself introduces variables that can change your brewing extraction. The variables the coffee brings to a coffee recipe include (but are not limited to): coffee roast date, roast level and processing method.
When you transition to a new bag of coffee, you will probably want to taste it and make some small tweaks to grind size, dosage and (when applicable) steep time. This process is called dialing in a coffee.
A person’s preferences play a huge role in coffee recipes. When I open I new bag of coffee, I start where I left off with the last coffee bag’s recipe— keeping as many variables the same as possible. I try to drink my first cup of a new coffee with intention, tasting and evaluating it. If there is something I would like to change with the taste that is brewing related, I will adjust my next brewing parameters accordingly.
I have written a more in depth post on dialing in coffee and troubleshooting brewing problems. You can read it here: Troubleshooting and Fixing a Bad Cup of Coffee.
Takeaway Three: If you are brewing with a different coffee than the original coffee recipe, you will likely need to make a few (minor) changes.
How to Make the Most Out of Coffee Recipes
Before you completely discount the hundreds of coffee recipes available to the manual coffee brewing enthusiast, here are four things that coffee recipes are good for:
- Establishing a baseline-You have to start somewhere. If you are starting from scratch with a brewer your are not familiar with, it is great to have somewhere to start.
- Learning techniques- There is definite value in reading how people brew with different devices. It may make you aware of a technique you did not know existed. The Aeropress is a great example of this. There are so many variations on brewing with the Aeropress. Recipes will show you things you never considered an option.
- Helping with troubleshooting- While troubleshooting a cup of coffee is a post (or even a series of posts) in itself, recipes can help you course correct. This is similar to establishing a baseline.
- Creating community- Even if recipes don’t always transfer to other brewers well, it is fun to share and discuss the differences.
The best advice I can give on coffee recipes is use them as a tool for learning new techniques and brewing methods. Look at the variables the recipe author gives and also consider the variables the author neglected to mention. Coffee recipes are best used as a baseline for the beginning of your own coffee experiments and understanding the capabilities of your brewing method of choice. Your water, grind size and the type of coffee you are using will most likely be different. That is okay.
Keeping a Coffee Brewing Journal
Consider keeping a simple coffee journal that tracks a few variables. If there are things that are always constant in your brewing (water and brewing method come to mind) you don’t need to record that information. Here are two articles on coffee journaling I’ve written:
- Coffee Journaling- Challenging Yourself with Deliberate Practice
- Taking a Second Look at Keeping a Manual Coffee Brewing Journal
A Few Coffee Brewing Guides
If you came here looking for some coffee recipes, here are a few resources to get your started. Remember to use them as a tool not the be-all-end-all coffee recipe for the brewing method. Have fun and enjoy yourself!
- French Press Coffee Recipe
- Aeropress Coffee Recipe
- Cold Brew Coffee Recipe
- Cowboy Coffee Recipe
- Moka Pot Recipe
I love the community coffee recipes bring and learning new ways to used my manual coffee implements. What is you favorite coffee recipe? Share in the comments below.